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When deciding to work in Manila as an expat, it is crucial to know and understand the proper work etiquette. What you are probably used to in your home country isn't necessarily acceptable in this city. Here are some tips for adapting to your new work environment in Manila.

The dress code in Manila

Depending on your type of field, Filipinos mostly dress formally from Monday to Thursday and dress down on Fridays. A suit isn’t usually necessary as Manila usually battles intense heat and humidity during the day. For men, a long-sleeved shirt and tie (or no tie) and dress pants would suffice. Women can dress similarly — a skirt or pants and long-sleeved dress shirt — or choose to wear a dress. It is also common for some companies to issue work uniforms like polo shirts for Fridays.

Professional behaviour in Manila

Filipinos are used to calling their bosses “ma’am” or “sir” as a way of showing respect to those in higher positions. It is not like in western culture where people prefer to use the first or last name to refer to any colleague, or their boss or even the owner of the company. Expats who move to work in Manila would also notice that their work colleagues usually approach stress and difficult tasks in a light manner (with the Filipino term “bahala na”). This might seem unproductive to the expat, but when communicating with Filipinos, it is best to avoid speaking in a confrontational way. This type of directness is frowned upon in the Philippine society as Filipinos are more used to the culture of saving face.

Filipinos don’t like to show anger or raise their voices as this is shameful and embarrassing in the Filipino culture. It might also be difficult for Filipinos to say “no”, so they may say “yes” initially to avoid embarrassment when they ultimately intend to say no. This is when listening carefully to understand their meaning would go a long way, as well as body gestures and expressions. Philippine culture puts a lot of emphasis on respect and relationships. Therefore, you must build rapport, show respect to people, and engage yourself. If you come from a culture that values directness in conversations, accept that the Philippine culture appreciates small talk instead.

Socialising at the workplace in Manila

Filipinos are hardworking and can easily adapt to any type of environment. Working overtime a few days a week is also expected. On workdays, Filipinos usually lunch out with colleagues. If you are part of a team, lunch out meetings can also be a common work culture. After-work hang out can mean dinner out. Drinks typically on a Friday night is usually common. This can include drinking in a pub or even partying in a club.

When someone has a birthday in the office, people usually pitch in to buy that person a small gift or a cake. There is usually a small office celebration with food and drinks, either for lunch or snacks. Team building trips out of town and family-oriented company events are also common in Manila. This is usually a summer outing where the employer would have a separate budget to fund outdoor recreational activities that will help build camaraderie among their employees. Company sports festival is another popular activity which could include basketball, bowling, etc. where all employees, including the bosses, are expected to participate.

The Filipino openmindedness

Some expats might be surprised to the overly inquisitive questions that their Filipino colleague might subject them. This might include questions about your family history, your marital status or the name of your partner. This doesn’t mean that Filipinos are being aggressively nosy on those private information, but rather, this shows emphasis on fostering warm relationships. This is a simple inquiry, generally showing friendliness. Filipinos are friendly, which means that real long-lasting friendships can form at work.

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